Harrison speaks about benefits of charting your own path

“Consider supporting those institutions that have made a positive difference in your lives. In my case, that has been, at the top of the list, Cornell and the Rhodes Scholarship,” said Bob Harrison ‘76, namesake of the Robert S. Harrison College Scholar Program


Harrison’s return to Cornell this March was a testament to his words and a celebration of his experience tackling interdisciplinary studies as a college scholar of social psychology and government during his undergraduate years. 


Harrison stood as the inaugural speaker for the newest lecture series honoring Associate Dean Lynne Abel ‘62, a remarkable program supporter. The series will continue with more talks and lunches to foster connections between alumni and students.


During his talk, Harrison recounted pivotal moments in his undergraduate years, such as his involvement in campus politics and his internship experience working for a congressman on the hill. As a college scholar, he combined his passion for government and psychology to study congressional behavior through personality tests and administered The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) to 17 congressmen for confidential analysis for his honors thesis. 


“My college scholar experience led me to become comfortable, I would say, for the first time, operating outside of my comfort zone,” Harrison said. 


This acceptance of uncomfortability led him to divert from his plans numerous times. For example, his initial post-graduate plan was to apply to law school. However, former Cornell provost and dean Dave Knapp and vice president for student affairs Mark Barlow ‘62 urged him to detour and apply for the Rhodes Scholarship. 


Because of his open-mindedness, Harrison spent two years at St. John’s College at Oxford University, reading a plethora of great novels and strolling down the same streets Lewis Carroll once walked. Harrison said, “Rhodes and Scholar were both off of my planned trajectory, and both of them were positively transformational.”


“The one lesson I would suggest, as you move beyond Cornell,” said Harrison, “is please take seriously the advice of those who you respect and know you well, or at least be curious and not dismissive of that advice… Were it not for Dave Knapp and Mark Barlow, I never would have had either of those two experiences.” 


After Oxford, Harrison's curiosity continued guiding him down unfamiliar roads, from practicing corporate law to investment banking at Goldman Sachs and later joining the Clinton Foundation. His decision to pivot professions exemplifies the value of cross-disciplinary learning in shaping one's perspective and career path.


Current college scholar and talk attendee Sasha Boguraev ‘24 said, “I also found it immensely inspiring to hear him talk about how his lived experiences in my own major set him up for such success going forward. I think hearing him talk about just how beneficial it was for him to learn how to step outside of his comfort zone and explore his academic interests was greatly appreciated, as these are things I have been doing for the last 2.5 years in this very program.”


Overall, Bob Harrison's visit to Cornell catalyzed meaningful dialogue and reflection among students and alumni, reinforcing the importance of interdisciplinary learning, mentorship, and adaptability in navigating the complexities of the professional world. As the College Scholar Program continues to evolve, Harrison's experiences inspire current scholars to chart their own paths with confidence and resilience.

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		Bob Harrison presents at a podium.